On a recent Saturday morning, Randy Hintze watched as the next round of pickleball matches began at Stotzky Park in the weekly Ladder League hosted by Riverhead Town’s recreation department. A retired Southampton Town police detective who lives in Wading River, Mr. Hintze, 63, had just completed an intense match during the first round of games.
Sitting nearby, Carl Krause of Laurel had also just finished a match as he took a sip of water.
Mr. Hintze’s brother Jim was on the court playing when he heard a sudden commotion behind him. He turned to see Randy lying on the ground. His first thought was that his brother had fainted from the heat. He rushed over and quickly realized the situation was far more dire.
Randy Hintze said the world flashed as if he was looking through the slide of an old View-Master. He was in cardiac arrest and the next few minutes would determine if he lived.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Mr. Krause, one of several EMTs who immediately rushed to Mr. Hintze’s aid.
Mr. Krause realized the man on the ground whom he had just met that morning had no pulse. He turned toward a woman who had just been on her phone and directed her to call 911.
Mr. Krause knew that to save Mr. Hintze they needed an automated external defibrillator.
Mr. Krause and Jim Hintze, who’s an EMT in the Manorville Fire Department and a CPR instructor, began CPR as staff members from the recreation department raced to bring over the AED that they keep ready at department-sponsored events.
“The only way to save him is to start compressions almost right away,” said Jim Hintze. “They say for every minute that CPR is delayed, it’s 10% less chance of the person surviving.”
Bill Graham, a member of the Eastport Fire Department who was also at the park, assisted with the AED. After three shocks, Mr. Hintze regained a pulse.
“When we talk about this in the EMS community, we always say for a successful event to occur, it has to be the right place, right time, right people, right equipment,” he said from his home a week after the June 15 incident. “When it all comes together, it works.”
Mr. Hintze has been on the other end of many rescues as a member of the Wading River Fire Department. His other brother, Ron, is an EMT with Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance.
The first image Mr. Hintze said he recalled after collapsing was opening his eyes in the ambulance as he was transported by members of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps. The next flash came in the ER at Peconic Bay Medical Center, surrounded by the code team. He could see Dr. Stanley Katz, chair of cardiology and chief of interventional cardiology at PBMC, who was instrumental in planning and designing the hospital’s cardiac care center that opened in 2017.
“I saw [Dr. Katz] and I said, ‘Oh, this can’t be good,’ ” he said.
The next flash he saw was in the catheterization lab with a technician standing over him. Finally, he remembered being transferred down a hospital hallway to the ICU.
Mr. Hintze, who had no known health issues and led an active lifestyle before the emergency, underwent a cardiac catheterization and remained in the hospital through June 19. He’s now back home recovering and in good spirits.
The events that came together that morning to save his life — from the trained first responders who were bystanders, to the ambulance volunteers, to the hospital staff — highlight the importance of access to AEDs in public spaces such as Stotzky Park.
“That machine is invaluable,” Mr. Krause said.
After the AED injected life back into Mr. Krause, it was a race against time to get to the hospital. Mr. Krause said if not for the cath lab at PBMC, he likely would not have made it. The time it would have taken to transport to Stony Brook University Hospital likely would have been too long, he said.
Ashley Schandel, assistant recreation program coordinator, said within the past few years the parks and recreation department secured AEDs to be available at any programs in case of similar emergencies.
She said staff members Julia Thomas and Al Tangredi were at the pickleball games that morning and quickly brought over the AED.
“All of our programs, our camps, a first-aid kit and AED is on hand at all times,” Ms. Schandel said.
She added that Ray Coyne, superintendent of the parks and recreation department, has encouraged all staff members to become CPR certified. She said this was the first instance she could recall of an AED being used at a recreation department-sponsored event since she became a full-time employee a few years ago.
In other instances where town fields are rented through a Police Athletic League, for example, it would be up to those organizations to supply an AED, Ms. Schandel said. She said making the devices more accessible during off-hours is something the department would like to pursue.
In 2015, Jack Crowley, then a Shoreham-Wading River High School sophomore, was struck in the chest with a baseball while playing around in the batting cages at the North Shore Little League baseball facility in Rocky Point. An off-duty police officer revived him with an AED that was present at the field. His incident and activism afterward led to the school district purchasing 24 additional AEDs.
Jim Hintze said any recreation area or public building should have an AED. The machines even provide instructions on how to operate them.
“There’s no reason not to have them,” he said.
The pickleball season continues through the end of August. Before it’s over, Mr. Hintze hopes to be back out there with a new lease on life.
As he reflected this week on all the people who contributed to saving his life, he began to choke up.
“Thank you seems so inadequate,” he said.
Top photo caption: Randy Hintze pictured Monday at the Wading River Fire Department. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)